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Unless you’ve been living in a yurt in the Gobi Desert for the past two years, you’ll know that when it comes to mid-size SUVs, the Kia Telluride rocks. 

This thing has scooped more gongs than Garth Brooks at the CMAs, more MVP awards than Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in the NBA. 

The tally includes Motor Trend SUV of the Year, a Car and Driver 10 Best and North American Utility Vehicle of the Year. They even voted it SUV of Texas. Yee-ha.

So when Kia announces that the Telluride just got a new kid brother, you’d better pay attention. As the old saying goes, the Granny Smith doesn’t fall far from the tree. 

Kia’s pint-sized 2021 Seltos is already being talked about in hushed tones as the new benchmark in the super-heated compact SUV class.

With more than a dozen major contenders — everything from the Honda HR-V, to Mazda CX-30, to Subaru’s Crosstrek, to Jeep’s Renegade and Hyundai’s Kona — that’s a lot of tough competition. 

And these are rock-bottom-priced runabouts. Prices for the Seltos kick off at around $23,000, and loaded with the kitchen sink and every option box checked, you can’t spend much more than $30,000.

The top-of-the-line, all-singing-and-dancing Seltos SX Turbo AWD I’ve just spent a joyful week zipping around in stickered at $29,495.

For me, what sets it apart is its cool style. This is a visually interesting, balanced design that looks more like an SUV rather than its more cartoonish-looking rivals. Yes, I’m talking about you, Mr. Jeep Renegade.

I love the front-end look with that trademark Kia “tiger-nose” grille and bright-white LED lighting. I love the ski-slope angle of the windshield and the precise body creases and contours.

OK, the Starbright Yellow paint of our tester is an acquired taste; it’s more 18-karat gold than buttercup. But Kia offers a two-tone option, with shiny-black for the roof and lower body sections, to soften the impact of the polarizing paint.

But there’s some lovely detailing here. Like all the brushed metal at the base of the side windows, across the tailgate and up front under the hood.

Now climb aboard and prepare to be wowed by the sheer roominess of the cabin. Front or back, there’s plenty of legroom, shoulder space and headroom. One really cool feature: reclining rear seats.

It’s super-practical, too. The tailgate is huge, and with the 60/40-split folding rear seats in place, there’s over 26 cubic feet of space. Fold them flat and the load area can swallow a whopping 62 cubic feet of stuff.

There’s plenty of tech here, too, with that big 10.3-inch touchscreen on the dash, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto connectivity, and a thumping Bose sound system.

The base engine is a 146-horse 2.0-liter four-cylinder, but you’ll want the spunky 1.6-liter turbo packing 175 ponies and 195 lb-ft of torque that comes with the S Turbo and SE Turbo models.

It’s mated to a seven-speed, quick-shifting dual-clutch automatic. And power goes to all four-wheels courtesy of standard all-wheel drive. 

This is one fun ride. Off the line there’s plenty of turbocharged rush with nice, quick shifts from the transmission. Dial up “sport” mode, and gears hang on longer and shifts come faster.

No, you’d never call it sporty, but the electric-assist steering is precise enough and nicely weighted. It turns into curves like it’s running on rails and rides well over lumpy blacktop.

And with all-wheel drive, AWD Lock Mode that splits the power 50/50 to the front and rear wheels, and over 7 inches of ground clearance, the Seltos isn’t going to be a stick-in-the-mud — or the beach. 

Without doubt, this is my favorite compact sport-ute available right now. And backed by Kia’s industry-leading 10-year/100,000-mile warranty program, like its paintwork, it’s the new gold standard. 

Test-drive the 2021 Kia Seltos at Century Kia of Tampa, Crown Kia of St. Pete, Lokey Kia of Clearwater and Courtesy Kia of Brandon

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